BROOKLYN, N.Y.—NBA offenses have become increasingly centered around the use of the screen and roll. The Brooklyn Nets are perfectly suited for such an approach, because their two best players start at point guard and center. This was the thinking behind coach Lionel Hollins and his team employing it when they started the second half trailing the Atlanta Hawks, 51–45.
But there are times when even your best approach just isn't good enough to fool a solid defender. Jeff Teague proved as much when Deron Williams came around a Brook Lopez screen with his eyes set on a bounce pass to the big man. Teague read the play the entire way, and picked it off before Lopez ever placed a hand on the ball.
After the ball was secured, Teague raced down the court and found DeMarre Carroll for a layup. Only moments later, the Nets used the same setup and came away with the same result. The only difference was that Teague moved the ball forward in transition and Carroll hit Kyle Kover, who knocked down an open three. Teague's defense was the impetus for a 23-3 third-quarter run that changed the complexion of the game and pushed the Hawks to an emphatic 111-87 Game 6 closeout win on Friday night.
[daily_cut.NBA]What was perhaps the most complete performance of these playoffs for Teague came in a game that he didn't score a single point. He finished the night with 13 assists and two steals, but the best indicator of his performance came in the plus-27 he posted. He directly helped his teammates finish with impressive scoring nights. Paul Millsap scored 25 points while Korver and Carroll each added 20.
When the run was done and the game was over, the men Teague hit with assists over and over dished about just how well he played. The first was coach Mike Budenholzer, who needed no prompting before he made the move to praise Teague.
"Jeff Teague, without scoring a point, I thought controlled the game," Budenholzer said. "[He] made huge plays to start the third quarter, creating turnovers in transition, and then you go up and down the list of the other four starters. Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll in foul trouble and still having a huge contribution, and, of couse, Kyle (Korver) and Al (Horford). So those five guys were great."
That has been the case for much of the Hawks' season. They can count on all five of their starters like no other team can. It has been obvious for the entire year, but it was evident again to start Atlanta's final game in Brooklyn this season.
On the Hawks' first possession, Korver circled around a screen and stepped right into his first three-point look of the night. The ease with which one of the NBA's best shooters converted an uncontested shot served as a sign of what was to come.
The Nets held close at the start, but the writing was on the wall after that opening play. When the Hawks held a 17-10 advantage at 5:36, every Hawks starter had scored except Teague, who had five assists. Carroll was second to speak on Teague's effect.
"We gotta stay true to who we are and that's playing Hawks basketball," Carroll said. "That's getting up and down the court, and I think Jeff Teague did a good job of that even though he didn't score tonight. He did a good job of keeping our pace up."
The fact that Atlanta needed virtually no time to deploy into its collective approach on this night proved damning for Brooklyn, and it went on to finish with 36 points on 23 possessions in the first quarter.
For all of their efficiency and gang scoring, the Hawks slipped right into a prolonged scoring drought on a regular basis during the series. After a pristine start, the Nets somehow held the Hawks to 15 points and 14 possessions in the second quarter.
This was not an isolated incident. Atlanta regularly pushed out to leads during the series only to stall and allow the Nets to climb back and make things competitive. More often than not, the Hawks kept the Nets at bay but it's a troubling pattern to set. Series only get tougher from here. The Hawks will now play the Wizards in the second round with Game 1 in Atlanta on Sunday. While Washington is not an especially explosive team, it can close out better than Brooklyn, as was evident from its sweep of the Toronto Raptors.
One clear example of the differences between the two is the Nets counted on Alan Anderson and Jarrett Jack to propel them forward, but both players had trouble in the first half on Friday. They combined to shoot 6 for 20 in 49 minutes.
Despite the slow start, it took a while before the doom and gloom truly set in for the Nets and their fans. Joe Johnson had a good look at the end of the first half and took a deep three that went halfway down before it popped back out and left the team and its fans hopeful for what the next 24 minutes might bring.
That false hope was quickly expunged from a building that had beamed with optimism after two quarters. Teague and the Hawks never looked back after they got going in the third quarter, and the Nets never had a chance for a rebuttal. The Hawks' third quarter finished like this: 41 points, 15 assists, 16-of-24 shooting, and 6 for 9 on three-pointers. They played 12 minutes of flawless basketball.
"I mean, I never go in thinking we're going to get blown out," Hollins said. "But when it started happening, I called timeout. Then I called another timeout and you could see they had the wave of momentum that they weren't going to let up."
Hollins's assessment was the correct one, yet Budenholzer treated the end of his team's first-round clincher with extra care toward the end of the night. He even called timeout when the Nets cut the lead to 100-80 with 5:21 remaining in the fourth. Of course, the team shaped up and both coaches eventually cleared their benches.
In the end, this was a merciful end to a series that was played harder than anyone ever expected. And Teague's play keyed the start to what was the best basketball Atlanta has played since the regular season.
"I think it all started with Jeff," Korver said. "I thought his pressuring the ball was amazing. We got some steals, and we got to get out and run. And I don't think that Jeff scored a point tonight, but his presence and his fingerprints were all over the game and I thought it was one of the best games that I've ever seen Jeff play. His focus and energy really fueled that third quarter, I thought."